Cork Business League: 1980s was the goldern era for the game on Leeside

Finbarr Buckley looks back at some of the best players and teams of the past
Cork Business League: 1980s was the goldern era for the game on Leeside

The Business League team who the defeated the Cork AUL in 1981. Back: Frank McCarthy (Fords) manager, Laurence Owens (Roches Stores), Brendan O'Keeffe (Fords), Derry Hartnett (Postal), Tommy Searls (Youghal Yarns), Harry Speight (Byrnes, c), Peter Gregson (CIE), Sean O'Donighue (WF Rational). Front: Kevin Cannon (Aer Lingus), Jerry Browne (Postal), Pat Downey (CIE), Noel Kelleher (do), Tony O'Leary (Fords), Billy O'Mahony (Lunhams). Picture: Finbarr Buckley.

AS the Cork Business League prepares to enter its historic 70th season in 2022/23, there is no doubt that the ‘80s when it enjoyed the greatest concentration of teams produced an array of players who would distinguish themselves throughout lengthy careers.

An early sign that the decade was going to produce something special was envisaged in the end-of-season inter-league Wembley tournament in June 1981.

The Shipping League as the league was known at the time drew the Cork Youth League at Old Rockmount Park on Tuesday, June 9 leaving the Cork AUL to lock horns with a Munster Senior League U21 selection. The Youths contained a strong contingent of the Tramore Athletic side who would go on to lift the FAI Youth Cup the following season.

CIE Athletic’s Pat Downey inspired the SL to a 3-0 win, scoring twice himself. After the MSL eliminated the AUL courtesy of a late penalty in the other semi-final, the winners met in the final at the Mardyke on Wednesday, June 17th.

Again Downey was in sparkling form, scoring twice inside the last ten minutes of the second half after goalkeeper Peter Gregson along with centre-backs Harry Speight of Byrnes and CIE’s Noel Kelleher repelled everything their opponents threw at them in the opening 45.

Downey, the tournament’s most valuable player, distinguished himself further by scoring two more against the AUL in a benefit match for Fords’ Martin Curtin who broke his leg at Flower Lodge later on in the month on Thursday, June 25.

His double brought his total to six, which I had erroneously credited him with five on two previous occasions. Downey’s scoring heroic earned him an Irish amateur cap against the Isle of Man the following year.

He remains one of only two players, the other being Eamonn Godfrey of Bank of Ireland, to be capped while playing in the league.

Others to catch the eye for the SL selection which was only drawn up at short notice included full-backs Kevin Cannon (Aer Lingus) and Jerry Browne (Postal Workers), the industrious and talented Youghal Yarns duo of Tommy Searls and Jim Atkins, Laurence Owens (Roches Stores) and the Fords ‘pair of Tony O’Leary and Brendie Mulcahy.

CIE Athletic's Pat Downey, right, shields the ball from Jim Lynam (Roches Stores) during the Byrne Cup semi-final at the ESB Grounds in 1988. Downey excelled during the Wembley Inter-league competition in 1981, scoring six of the eight goals scored. Picture: Finbarr Buckley.
CIE Athletic's Pat Downey, right, shields the ball from Jim Lynam (Roches Stores) during the Byrne Cup semi-final at the ESB Grounds in 1988. Downey excelled during the Wembley Inter-league competition in 1981, scoring six of the eight goals scored. Picture: Finbarr Buckley.

Our Lady’s Hospital Utd. broke through in 1981/82 in their first season by upstaging Postal Workers to win the Bank of Ireland Shield as a third division side. OLH would go to leave their mark on the decade by winning the AIB Cup twice and contesting four shield finals, winning two.

The team was built around a commanding defence which included goalkeeper Sean Culloty, defenders Dan Healy, Jimmy Halloran, John O’Grady, Denis Murphy and Mick O’Donoghue, a mobile middle three of Donal Cronin, Paudie Cremin and Declan O’Riordan who provided the ammunition for powerful centre-forward Dave O’Donoghue and fellow strikers Kieran Corcoran and Tony McAuliffe.

The decade almost belonged to arguably the greatest team to have graced the league, Postal Workers. The Workers set out in 1979/80 by winning the double of league and cup and by the turn of the 90’s would amass an incredible twenty trophies.

The club of then BL secretary Mick Mooney, Postal’s great asset was their consistency and never say die attitude which oozed from one to eleven. Goalkeeper Tom Archer was ever-present throughout and played behind a back-four that included an array of talent in Connie O’Callaghan, Philip Clifford, John McGrath, Jerry Browne, Timmy Donovan and Tony Guest.

The middle of the park contained a blend of attacking and defensive options in Andy Maher, Derry Hartnett, John Browne and Pat Lester, the goals the specialty of the league’s most decorated players, John Reid, Pat Hurley and Tom Barry.

Cork Examiner laid the foundation for their treble success in 1990/91 by winning the AIB Cup in 1980/81 and 1985/86 as well as appearing in two losing finals in consecutive years, 1987/88 and 1988/89.

Goalkeeper Denis McCarthy, defenders Jim Courtney, Pat Broderick, Kieran Falvey and Frank Drummond along with Paul Howley in midfield and Don Bevan up front would go on to be the cornerstone of the ’91 and ’92 successes which were to follow.

Dave Ahern who played in the 4-2 triumph over Postal Workers in ’86 took over as team manager in time to guide the Academy Street outfit the team’s greatest success. Other prominent players to play prominent roles in the cup runs of the ‘80s include Dave Creedon, Keith Anthony, Pat Hawkes, Kevin Hayes and John Foley.

Youghal Yarns are best remembered for becoming the first team to win all four competing trophies in 1992/92. But, their successes in the early ‘80s, winning the AIB Cup and Premier Cup as well as a losing shield appearance marked them as one of the top four sides in the league at that time.

Pat Saville, Sean and Connie Hosford, Dave Barrett, Tommy Searls, Jim Atkins and Cyril O’Mahony were leading members of the Killacloyne outfit.

The CBL was fortunate to have been served by some of the best referees in the local scene at the time. Names like the great Derry Barrett and Sammy Spillane, Eddie Healy, Rory O’Connor and his son of the same name, Michael Foley, Denis Morley, Finbarr Bevan, Mr Football himself Tony Hennessy, Jim O’Leary and the Fords’ trio of Barry Kearney, Eddie Mullins and Frank Hourigan.

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